Tips for Nail Biters and Pickers

I had a couple folks ask me how they can grow out their nails and keep them looking nice, so here’s some tried-and-true tips. I’m actually a reformed picker myself- not so much of a biter, but I will pick at any ragged edges, make the nail too short, and since I hate having one short nail, they all have to go.

Some people pick/bite due to boredom, stress, etc. and then it just becomes a habit.  Here’s  some tips on overcoming long enough to grow out your nails. Many people (myself included) stop messing with their nails once they look good!

1. For biters, some people have good luck using a bitter but non-toxic liquid that is painted on the nails. The extremely bitter taste will stop absentminded nibbling. It does seem to come off after repeated handwashing, though, so it needs to be reapplied regularly. This option is of no use to pickers, though.

2. No matter what your nail issue is, make sure your nails and cuticles are moisturized. Use a cuticle balm, oil..whatever you like, just make sure to apply it regularly. Keep it on your nightstand and apply a good amount before bed at least. This will help reduce hangnails and raggedy cuticles, which can reduce the urge to pick.

3. Carry a nail file in your purse. I use a glass file, but carry them in a case as they can break. Use a fine file rather than a gritty one. That way, if you notice any rough edges on the nail, you can take care of them right away. It seems a bit silly, but for me, a rough nail edge drives me crazy. Just whip out the file, take care of it, and you won’t feel the urge to “even it out” by picking.

4. Cover your natural nails until they grow out. It often works well since it can help to break the habit and stops all that absentminded damage. This was actually what I had the most luck with.  I find I mess with them much less when they’re all grown out and even. They look too nice to abuse!

There are a few basic options to cover nails until they grow out:

Acrylic nails- Not recommended due to the damage most salons will do to your natural nails.  If they’re using power tools to grind down the natural nails, it will damage and weaken them badly, defeating the purpose.  It can take months to grow out the damage- but hey, it’s faster for the salon, so many places use power tools indiscriminately. Acrylic nails generally do some degree of damage to the natural nails (some layers of the natural nail has to be stripped for the acrylic to adhere), but some salons cause more damage than others. If you really want to get acrylics, try to find a salon that will hand-file the nails rather than use a dremel or sander.

Gel- A less damaging option.  The natural nails do need to be filed down a bit to remove the top layer so the gel can adhere. It’s usually more expensive and time-consuming to add length to the nails with gel since it’s a more complicated process. It can also be lumpy and uneven if you don’t have a good nail technician. The gel feels like a couple thick coats of nail polish on the nails. It’s resilient but not pick-proof and generally lasts 2-3 weeks, after which point the gel needs to be filled in to cover the gap where the new nail has grown in.

Artificial press-on nails- These worked best for me! (If you’re a biter/picker with petite nails, head over to my Etsy shop and get a nice set of single color nails to use while you’re growing yours out! OK, end shameless plug.) These nails can be found in most drugstores in various designs and sizes, and can be an economical way to try and cover your natural nails so they can grow out a bit. No salon visit needed, and fairly easy to do.  Follow the glue instructions carefully and make sure the artificial nails are quite short, because it’s hard to go from no nails to having claws. It’s surprisingly easy to poke an eye or scratch places that shouldn’t be scratched.

And, this may be impossible, but try to reduce stress/boredom in your life. It can lead to a lot of unconscious habits, like nail biting and hair pulling. If possible, try to bring a distraction with you (good book? fun game on your phone?) so you can take a moment of time-out when you’re getting stressed or bored. If at all possible, giving yourself a 5-minute respite when things get overwhelming is really useful. I find I can tackle hard situations much better if I just get a little break and put my mind elsewhere for even a little bit.

Good luck to everyone trying to kick the habits!

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About nevertoomuchglitter

Nail artist. Wanderer. I'm a color-holic, in fact, it was my love of color that brought me to the nail art world. Well, that, and the fact I was too cheap to pay crazy Japanese prices for nail polish while living in Tokyo, so I had to start mixing my own. That's how NTMG began.
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20 Responses to Tips for Nail Biters and Pickers

  1. Sara says:

    I used to bite my nails, then I would constantly pick at them if there were rough edges. It still drives me crazy. So I bought some nice nail colors and started painting them. My nails are super thin, but with base coat, 2 coats of polish and a top coat they thicken up quite a bit. I keep a file and a cuticle trimmer with me all the time to correctly fix something before I can pick at it. Now I have long healthy nails that I get comments about all the time. If I spend an hour and a half once a week doing pretty nail art I’m not going to mess it up by picking.

    • nevertoomuchglitter says:

      Good for you for breaking the habit! Rough edges drive me crazy as well, so having a little file or buffer around worked wonders. Nail art is also a great way to keep yourself from messing with your nails once they’re grown out and lovely. 🙂

  2. Great tips! I’m happily over this habits:)

  3. Marina says:

    Thank you for a wonderful post! İ’ve finally taken some time to go through your etsy shop and İ am definitely tempted to order some of your active size nails immediately!:)) İ am new to any sort of artificial nails though and confused about the sizes in a set. Perhaps my question is totally stupid, but what do you do with eleven different sizes? Use a set together with a friend or… ?:)

    • nevertoomuchglitter says:

      It’s my pleasure- glad you liked the post and thanks for stopping by the shop! The reason there are 10-11 sizes in a set is to ensure they fit the widest range of people. I do sometimes do custom nails with exact measurements, but it’s generally more convenient to have a variety of sizes to pick and choose from. If you happen to have a friend who can wear your “spares”, so much the better! 🙂

  4. August says:

    What do you do with a break? Right now I have a small tear in my nail. I put a glob of liquid nails glue on it, but what is a more long-term (cheap) fix until it grows out long enough to cut?

    • nevertoomuchglitter says:

      If you can, *very* gently file over the area with a fine grit file or nail buffer. Hold the file horizontally and go over the surface gently in one direction at a time (no back and forth) to try and make it as smooth as possible. It’s ok if you can’t do this but this step will make the glue adhere better and reduce the risk of snagging the nail.

      From there, cut up a teabag to make a little patch, and apply your glue. Lay the teabag patch over it, smooth it out, and let it sit for a few minutes. You can seal it off with another dab of glue if need be. I follow it up with a coat of clear nail polish to seal everything off. The key is to make it all as smooth and even as possible so you don’t rip the tear anymore. This fix should allow the nail to grow out enough so you can cut it and it won’t really hurt!

  5. Kattya says:

    Thanks for the tips I’ve had the awful habit of biting my nails all my life x_x It tends to go away on summer but I am so stressed with studies I can’t help myself u.u But! I’ve been using the nails I ordered and my thumbs are already longer! x3 I’m still a work in progress but the path seems bright!

  6. dorfmunder says:

    I’m bad to pick at my cuticles, so when I catch myself doing it, I put a little neosporin on a bandaid and cover up that sucker so I leave it alone! A couple days of a band-aid is worth the ugliness to save a week or more for a nasty picked spot to heal.

  7. procrastinating again says:

    Another reason people tend to bite or pick their nails is because they like the oral stimulatiion. Chewing gum, eating crunchy snacks can help satisfy that need. I bit my nails until high school and if I get dry skin, hangnails, I can hardly stop myself fromchewing on the yucky parts!
    To keep my cuticles nice I always wear gloves when it is cold or doing housework.

    • nevertoomuchglitter says:

      Thanks for sharing! I never thought about the oral stimulation angle- interesting point!

  8. Jessica says:

    It also could stem from depression too. I know that may sound a bit out there, but I was a biter for as long as I could remember. I made a life change and I have not chewed my nails to stubs in almost three years. I also keep a nail file within reach anywhere I am, a ragged nail is the enemy! Now if I could figure out how to keep polish on my nails without chipping off in 24 hours, then I would be more than just someone who envies your talents and the skills of others. Yes I base coat, polish and top coat, but no luck.

  9. Gee-well says:

    I’m turning 16 in a few days, and I t am trying to consider fake nails (glue-on nails), Some people say that it could damage the natural nails and some say it worked. I’ve been biting my nails since I was a kid. There was a time I stopped and there’s a progress. But my nails didn’t grew past my finger. Maybe my nails just take too long to grow. I tried using castor oil for my nails and hair and a lotion. But I unconsciously bite my nails, probably from stress or boredom. And my progress is gone. Everytime I bite my nails unconsciously, I get very disappointed with myself. There will be a time I’d pray for my nails to grow haha. I would like to order from your shop when I’m 18. But do you have any tips for me to really stop biting/peeling? Is it really safe to grow nails under glue on nails? Because I’m getting more ashamed so I always hide my hands and I don’t show my nails as much as possible, it’s like people will look at you and your nails. I started thinking that way when “Nail goals videos or photos” were viral. And everybody have perfect manicured long nails. Help me please, I could do it but I need help.

    • nevertoomuchglitter says:

      Hi there, thanks for your message! A lot of us are lifelong biters and pickers, and while some folks kick the habit, for others it’s really tough. Don’t beat yourself up. Some nails just grow really slowly and it’s easy to undo a week’s worth of progress in a minute.

      Have you tried that bitter stuff that can be applied to nails? Orly makes one. It’s harmless, but it tastes terrible. It will help if you unconsciously bite. But it won’t help if you’re more of a picker.

      If you’re mostly a picker, then it’s important to make your nails as strong as possible so they can kind of resist the assaults. I would often have a nail with an uneven edge because they were weak and would break off, which would of course lead me to try and even it out = no more nails. But with stronger nails, you’ll see more growth quicker since you won’t lose as much length to picking/accidental breakage. I used to use OPI Nail Envy way back in the day, but it’s not cruelty-free anymore so I use Seche Plus Fortified. There are many different brands on the market, but armoring your nails a bit against the hard knocks of daily life is a good step.

      If those steps don’t work, you may just have to cover your nails, either with press ons or in a salon. BE VERY CAREFUL about salons, if you go that route. I am not saying that because I have a press on nail business-it’s the truth. Many salons will use power tools like electric sanders that can really damage even healthy natural nails, not to mention already weak ones. Also, if your nails are really bitten down and damaged, it’s better not to cover them with acrylics or gels until they’re a bit stronger. That leaves press on nails (and no, not just saying that!). You can use glue or adhesive tape. I recommend the adhesive tape because there’s less chance of damaging the nail. However, the tape is not as sticky as glue. You can generally get 1-3 days of wear out of the nails, but that’s actually a good thing because then you can give them a rest anytime you choose by removing the nails easily. And you won’t be able to pick at your natural nails as easily, so it gives them a chance to recover and grow out. It can be a pain to reapply nails every day, but it generally doesn’t take longer than a couple minutes once you get it down.

      So, my cure was to use nail strengthener on a daily basis, then cover my nails until they grew out. Once they grew to where I wanted them, I used the strenghtener 1 or 2 times a week, and carried a file with me to get rid of any jagged uneven edges. It drives me crazy and that makes me want to pick at them. Hope some of this is helpful and good luck on your nail journey!

      • Gee-well says:

        Thank you very much for the tips! I’m using glue-on nails right now and it kind of helps me not to bite or peel my nails. Does it damage the natural nail? Maybe my nail just naturally grow slowly. Where can I buy the OPI envy? What type of OPI envy? Is there any lotions that I could buy to a nearby store? Thank you!

      • nevertoomuchglitter says:

        OPI should be available at your local drugstore or salon store, I would guess. I don’t use it anymore since it’s not cruelty-free, but it can generally be found in drugstores. I like Orly Nailtrition or Nail Defense, which you can get on Amazon. Nails that are glued on will not damage the nail unless you pick them off- resist the urge! Never pick off the nails, you will have to wait for them to loosen naturally and then use acetone (nail polish remover) to dissolve the glue. Otherwise, there should not be any damage to your natural nails.

      • Gee-well says:

        Thank you very much for the experiences and the tips! I would buy at your shop when I have my card 🙂 thanks alot!

      • nevertoomuchglitter says:

        You are very welcome. 🙂

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